I just want to feel better, she says, looking at me with those eyes–wide, blue like crisp Fall; those eyes that still say Mom, fix this, please, even though we’re both well past the point of believing I could actually do that.
Her bookbag thunks to the floor and she tugs at her skinny jeans, and before she looks away, I see her lip tremble just a little, the way it did all those round, gurgly years ago before we began to imagine her all long and lean and half grown. Sometimes I have to force myself to remember that she’s not as independent as she seems, that she still needs me to cradle her sometimes. She drags a thumb across her cheek, presumably to tuck a wild, brassy strand behind her ear, but when she looks back at me, I can see the darting signs of her mascara, just lightly marking the Indian bones of her cheek at the valley. She has the angles of a strong, free woman; lines she inherited from me, my mama, her mama before. She’s a deep, rushing river, but with so many tender turns. She neither wishes to make a show of her weaknesses nor would hide them from me. When I reach for her, she sags into me, gasping, letting go of the sigh she’s been holding. She has a terrible cold, so she’s not breathing well anyway. It’s mid-afternoon.
And I am feeling…what? Well not very nurturing. I’ve noticed it’s this natural thing between mamas and their daughters, between fathers and their sons, this innate priority to draw out their longevity. Sometimes it’s like I’m forging iron instead of refining silver. Well, both processes have a place. Still, the way she exhales, the way her shoulders dip—-almost imperceptibly; she softens me. I wrap arms around her shoulders. I kiss her cheeks.
“You’re going to feel better. The afternoons are the worst,” I say, the words just lightly resting on her cheeks, her forehead.
I can’t fix it, but I can offer her the last bit I have left after a day’s pouring. In God’s hands, our leftovers become feasts, our treasures hoards, and my next-to-nothing becomes His blessing. I wonder if she looks in my eyes yet and sees how much I also sometimes want to be cradled, how I’m not as independent as I seem, but I know that perspective takes years to develop.
I slide my thumbs over her cheekbones–those raw, sharp planes, and I smile. “How about I make you a cup of tea, and you let your mama love on you a bit,” I say. I reach for her hand, gently tugging her toward the kitchen. Her fingers feel fine, smooth, much more graceful than my own. “Wait till you see what I got for you today.” The bag crinkles as I brush it aside so she can see, nothing lavish, just some chicken broth and a can of noodle soup, practical, easy things that will soothe, nourishing things she can sip, wrapping her fingers around a mug while the steam dances.
I stand in the kitchen while she tells me about the day, simply, waiting for the grateful cup in her hand, anticipating the way love covers over, the way it fills and heals. It isn’t much—bits, really, but for her, today, it’s more than enough. I see it suddenly on her face, hear it in her voice as she talks, the richness, and I realize how silly I can be sometimes. I am at once the personality of Philip, wondering how I can manage to scrape together any amount that will be what she needs and then slowly the voice of Andrew, venturing to believe that the little I have will somehow multiply if I offer it to Jesus (John 6:5-13). And then He comes along, seeping through our linked fingers, and satisfies with a box of broth, a can of soup, a mug of cinnamon tea, and, well, Love.